Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 208

The militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), who have been operating in the Tajik-Kyrgyz-Uzbek border region, are now in Taliban-controlled territory in northern Afghanistan. Nearly 1,000 rebels, accompanied by several hundred family dependents, left their encampments in Tajikistan’s Jirgatal and Karategin areas on November 5, 6 and 7, following negotiations with the Tajik government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO). The deal was facilitated by former commanders of UTO forces–notably UTO’s former chief of staff, Mirzo Zio, now a major-general and minister of emergency situations in the coalition government–who capitalized on their past connections with Juma Namangani and other Uzbek rebel leaders. Tajik government troops–including former UTO fighters–supervised the evacuation and escorted the Uzbek rebels to the Tajik-Afghan border. According to Zio, “not a single supporter of Namangani is left in Tajikistan.”

The rebels are, for the most part, natives of Uzbekistan’s Ferghana and Namangan regions who moved approximately two years ago to UTO-controlled territory in Tajikistan. They now want to return to Uzbekistan to establish an Islamic state there. Their recent incursion into Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region had been designed to take them to Uzbekistan across the relatively undefended Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. When Kyrgyz forces finally pushed them back into Tajikistan last month, the rebels indicated their intent to move on to Afghanistan and then to Uzbekistan.

The insurgents’ presence in Tajikistan had exposed it to the threat of Uzbek military intervention–a prospect which the Tajik government and opposition are equally anxious to avert. Tajikistan tried to rid itself of the Uzbeks in August of this year by allowing them to slip–with their weapons–into Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan returned that doubtful favor by allowing the rebels to return to Tajikistan last month, instead of destroying them as Uzbekistan had wanted. In response, Uzbekistan has been threatening to send its troops into Tajikistan and crush its rebel citizens there (see the Monitor, October 4-5, 27 and the Fortnight in Review, November 5). Tajik forces are scarcely capable of cracking down on the rebels, while the UTO feared a split in its own ranks if its leaders condoned a crackdown.

Most significant, Russian forces in Tajikistan displayed no interest in any of this. Although Moscow vastly exaggerates the Namangani and Taliban threats, as pretexts for corralling regional governments into CIS military arrangements, Russian troops in Tajikistan allowed Namangani’s force to move unmolested to Talib-ruled Afghanistan. Moscow seems interested in creating, rather than solving this problem for Uzbekistan, so as to maximize the sense of insecurity in Tashkent and other capitals of the region–just as it proceeded during the Islamic militants’ operation in Kyrgyzstan (Itar-Tass, Dushanbe Radio, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Mashhad), November 5-7; see the Monitor, October 12, 20 and the Fortnight in Review, September 24).